Francis (Frank) C. Turner


Francis C. TurnerIn 1929, Frank graduated from the Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Texas A&M University) and immediately joined the Division of Management of the Bureau of Public Roads. He spent his entire professional career in that organization and its successor—the Federal Highway Administration. Joining the Bureau of Public Roads as a Junior Highway Engineer, Frank was assigned to field service in the Bureau’s research program in what was then called the Division of Management. He was one of a small group of college graduates selected each year to enter a training program involving the field study of construction methods designed to reduce the costs of highway construction. From this small group of younger engineers came an astonishing number of future leaders of the Bureau of Public Roads. Their work taught them to question construction procedures of the time, to be innovative and resourceful, to respond to change and to make every effort to obtain more road for less cost by expanding production. Highway engineering was in its infancy in 1929. 

Frank was transferred to the Arkansas Division office at Little Rock, Ark., USA, in 1933, where he was an Area Engineer responsible for the federal-aid highway program in a portion of that state. He earned a graduate degree in civil engineering from Texas A&M in 1940. After spending a number of years in the Washington, D.C., USA, offices of the Bureau of Public Roads, Frank was sent to work on the Alaska highway project as an “expediter,” where he pioneered the use of aerial reconnaissance for highway location. Upon completion of the Alaska project in 1946, he was sent to the Philippines and headed a highly successful mission to restore that country’s war-damaged roads and bridges and to organize and train a national highway organization. In 1951, the Philippine government recognized Frank’s many contributions to the country by making him a Member of the Legion of Honor (Officer Grade). 

Frank returned to the United States in 1950 to become the assistant to Commissioner Thomas H. MacDonald. In this capacity, Frank coordinated the work on the Inter-American Highway and the many foreign missions engaged in highway activities in Ethiopia, Turkey, the Philippines, Liberia, etc., as well as taking on many special assignments. 

In 1954, when President Eisenhower appointed the President’s Advisory Committee on the National Highway Program (the Clay Committee), Frank was named Executive Secretary to the committee. One of the committee’s tasks was to recommend whether the national highway system should be “toll” or “free.” Frank worked extremely hard to place all aspects of the problem before the committee. After careful deliberations, the committee recommended a National System of Interstate and Defense Highways to be financed through a federal-state partnership that has continued to this day. After the committee reached its decision, Frank continued working with the committees to convince them of the soundness of the recommendations and the need for the program. For all of his contributions, Frank is often considered the “father” of the Interstate Highway System.

Frank served as Deputy Commissioner and Chief Engineer for Public Roads from 1957 to 1967. In February 1967, the U.S. Senate confirmed his appointment as Director of Public Roads. In February 1969, the U.S. Senate confirmed him as the Federal Highway Administrator. He served in this position until his retirement on June 30, 1972. 

Frank received recognition for his leadership and contributions in transportation from many organizations. He was named Construction Man of the Year in 1967 and 1970 by Engineering News-Record and also was named World Highway Man of the Year by the International Road Federation in 1969. In January 1999, Frank became the first recipient of the Frank Turner Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Transportation, which was presented at the 78th Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board in Washington, D.C., USA. Established in 1998 by a group of friends, colleagues and admirers of Frank, this medal recognizes lifetime achievement in transportation, as demonstrated by a distinguished career in the field, professional prominence and a distinctive, widely recognized contribution to transportation policy, administration, or research. TRB serves as the secretariat for this award, which may be conferred biennially.


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